Some say it’s hard to startover when you’re a woman past 50.
But that’s exactly whatJudith Lawrencedid when she bought the decades-oldCenter City Notarybusiness, became her own boss and turned the shop intoPhiladelphia’s only 24-hour notary.
“At first, I was terrified,” said Lawrence, a South Jersey native and current Center City resident. “I thought, ‘Should I really be doing this?’”
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Lawrence is in her early 60s and had to reinvent herself after abruptly being laid off from her job of 20 years as an assistant at a law firm.
“I was not the person you see sitting here,” she said of that period.
Lawrence became a notary public in 2001 while working at the law firm. So to keep busy, she started doing notaries on a freelance basis. She met and befriended the 84-year-old notary public who formerly owned Center City Notary.
One day, he told her, “Well I’m done, and I think you should buy this business,” she recalled. “And the rest is history.”
That was just under a year ago. Since then, Lawrence has redecorated her office in the Land Title building in Center City and modernized the equipment. A copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s female business empowerment manual "Lean In" pokes out from a bookshelf, and new artworks decorate the walls. She has nine independent contractors, but is the only full-time employee.
She has worked with more than 3,000 customers.
“Judy grew the business to be more up-to-date,” said Lawrence’s friend Linda Mitchell, who helps out with the business. “It’s perfect for her, her personality, all her skills rolled into one.”
Why stay open 24 hours? She points to customers like the real estate businessman who needed her to notarize paperwork for a $35 million deal at 3 a.m. one day. He needed to submit the documents to a judge by 6 a.m.
Technically, all a notary public does is verify that a signature is authentic. But notarization is required on a variety of legal documents.
On Wednesday, Lawrence started at 9:30 a.m. in a psych ward. She was there to notarize power-of-attorney paperwork for a patient’s family.
An hour and a half later, she was at an advertising agency notarizing more papers. From there, she returned to her office and notarizing divorce papers for a couple “who absolutely hated each other,” she said. “It took 45 minutes to do what could have been done in 12 minutes.”
Lawrence said she loves the work because of all the interesting people she meets.
“One time, a 91-year-old woman came in pushing a little shopping cart,” Lawrence recalled. “She goes, ‘I need a will and I’m in a hurry. I gotta go home.’ I say, ‘Where’s home?’ She says, ‘Heaven, hon. I’m 91 years old and I gotta get to heaven.’”
Lawrence also does other kinds of work: she helps people get new auto tags and titles, does apostilles (certifying documents for foreign countries), and works as a closer on mortgages and refinancing deals. Last month, she notarized presidential election recount petitions for dozens of people.
But helping people through the job is what makes her "feel like Tarzan,” as she put it.
And even though Pennsylvania no longer requires the old-fashioned embossed seal of notaries, Lawrence still totes hers along wherever the job takes her.
“They say, ‘I want the seal.’ They don’t feel it was notarized properly without it, and I wouldn’t either,” she said.
“My only regret is I should have started doing this 25 years ago.”
Need a notary?
Notaries are $10 a pop at Center City Notary. Popular services include:
Power of Attorney
Visit CenterCityNotary.com for more info.